Call for Papers – Workshop on “From Minimal to Complex Collective Actions”, Sept 4 2017

Center for the Study of Social Action, University of Milan, Via Festa del Perdono, 7, 20122 Milano, Italy.

Keynote Speakers: Stephen Butterfill (University of Warwick), Sara Rachel Chant (Tulane University), Kirk Ludwig (Indiana University Bloomington)

This workshop aims at bringing together philosophers of mind and action to discuss the interrelation between minimal and complex collective actions from different angles. Questions include (but are not restricted to): What are the minimal criteria for there to be a collective action? How do minimal or basic cases of joint action come into existence and how do they interrelate with more complex cases that may take place in larger groups and in institutional frameworks? Are complex collective actions reducible to a set of minimal collective actions? Are non-human animals able to engage in minimal collective action? What is the developmental basis of minimal and complex collective actions? What are the implications of minimal collective action for social science? What is the contribution of neuroscience to our understanding of collective action?

There are few more slots for talks available. If you would like to attend the workshop actively with giving a talk, please send a 200-word abstract suitable for blind-review to by June 1, 2017. The abstracts will be reviewed by the members of the Centre for the Study of Social Action, University of Milan, by June 30, 2017.


Stephen Butterfill (University of Warwick): Joint Action and the Emergence of Referential Communication

Consider the conjecture that abilities to perform joint actions play a role in explaining the developmental emergence of referential, purposively communicative actions.  If this conjecture is correct, how should we characterise joint action?  Leading philosophical and developmental theories propose to do so by invoking abilities to coordinate planning. But a body of research indicates that abilities to coordinate plans have a protracted development, with even the simplest and earliest manifestations typically not occurring until years after a child’s first words. After reviewing this research, an alternative approach to characterising joint action involving expectations about collective goals will be introduced. But how could abilities to perform joint actions enable production and comprehension of referential, purposively communicative actions? By constructing a model, this talk aims to show that a surprisingly rich and flexible range of communicative actions can be characterised by appeal to simple forms of joint action, without any need for postulating either coordinated planning or communicative intentions.  The route from minimal to complex joint actions may therefore go via communication.

Sara Rachel Chant (Tulane University): From Minimal to Complex Collective Actions

Collective action theory models its questions and answers for collectives after those of individual action theory. Because the first problem for individual action theory concerns the conditions for something’s being an individual action, the first problem for collective action theory concerns the conditions for something’s being a collective action. Likewise, since standard answers to the first problem for individual action theory concern the mental states of an agent (e.g. their beliefs, desires, plans, and intentions), standard answers to the first problem for collective action theory concern the mental states of the group. Since this approach is straightforwardly applied from individual action theory, and individuals are saliently different from groups, providing a unified analysis across the wide range of actions taken by groups proves far more challenging than its individual counterpart. As a result, most theories of collective action focus on ‘small-scale’ actions (e.g. walking together or lifting a heavy table) when they discuss the minimal conditions for something’s being a collective action and hope that they can extend that minimalist account to cover the very wide array of complex actions of groups. In this talk, I suggest that the standard minimalist proposals are not minimal enough and that that mistake arises from the general approach taken in collective action theory. Once we recognize that mistake and consider truly minimal collective actions, we may begin to see the way toward a unified theory from minimal to complex collective actions.

Kirk Ludwig (Indiana University): Scale in Collective Action: From Meetings to Mergers

Many accounts of joint intentional action focus on small-scale interactions in which the participants know each other and the task is one that they all work on at the same time and in proximity to one another.  A paradigm of this is Michael Bratman’s account of modest sociality in which mutual responsiveness plays a central role and requires all the agents to be aware of each other in order to respond in ways that are mutually supportive.   Margaret Gilbert’s account, which is grounded in joint commitment, likewise starts with the case of groups small enough for all members to express in their behavior to each other their readiness to jointly commitment to their doing something, and even extensions to non-basic cases presuppose a prior arrangement in which everyone expresses their readiness to everyone else. Raimo Tuomela’s basic account requires mutual knowledge of the preconditions for success and so appears to place significant constraints on the size of the group.   But while small-scale joint action is a pervasive feature of social life, we live in a civilization whose basic structures are dominated by large-scale collective and institutional action.  How do we bridge the gap between, on the one hand, accounts of small-scale joint action, like committee meetings, where all the participants are aware of all the others, and, on the other, multi-generational projects like building the Great Wall of China, and mergers where corporations themselves appear to be the agents, and most of their operators and shareholders never meet and are ignorant of much that the corporations do?  In this talk, I sketch a general account of plural action and joint intention that scales up from two people shaking hands or meeting in the park, to generations-long construction projects like the Great Wall of China, and apparently irreducible organizational actions like corporate mergers.